WrestleMania still isn’t canceled as of this writing, but the Covid-19 pandemic is having a big effect on pro wrestling all the same. Friday night we witnessed the strange spectacle of Smackdown broadcasting from the WWE Performance Center with only empty chairs where the audience would normally be. It’s looking like that will be the only way they can do TV for the immediate future, so it will be interesting to see what they learn as they go, and how “normal” they can make the whole thing seem. Reports are emerging that make it clear they’re just figuring it all out as they go. I suppose that’s what we’re all doing.
Notes on the show obtained by Fightful.com make a point of stating that Friday’s was “very much a feeling out process.” In fact, as of Saturday it looks like the plans for tonight’s RAW may lead to a very different show from what we got on Friday.
WWE brought a crew of dozens to the Performance Center to get ready for and produce Smackdown. They also called in wrestlers who didn’t end up being on the show. There’s no word on if those were non-Smackdown roster members who were invited and then not used. Fightful also spoke to several NXT wrestlers who were apparently given no word on whether they should be at the PC, or even if they were allowed to be there during Smackdown, despite that being their usual workplace.
As you’ve probably already seen on social media, video emerged from the Isreali broadcast of Smackdown showing that the wrestling stopped working during commercial breaks. Michael Cole is heard asking how everything sounds. Triple H also comments on the wrestlers playing to the imaginary audience rather than the cameras.
The original plan wasn’t for Triple H to be so heavily featured on Smackdown, with more guests appearing on commentary instead, but Triple H had strong chemistry and got good social media reactions, so the call was made in the moment to keep him around for the whole show.
We don’t know how long these “empty arena” shows are going to go on, but it could be at least as long as the 8 weeks that the CDC has recommended not having large public gatherings. If that’s the case, or even close to it, it will be interesting to see not just what Raw looks like, but what these shows might evolve into after weeks of not having live crowds to play off of.